Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said Sunday that Israel was asking the Egyptian government not to allow the body of a Palestinian rocket engineer assassinated on Saturday in Malaysia to be returned to his family in the Gaza Strip, until Hamas returns to Israel the bodies of two IDF soldiers and two mentally ill Israeli citizens it is holding in the enclave.
Fadi al-Batsh, 35, was shot dead early Saturday while on his way to prayers in Kuala Lumpur. Hamas, which claimed him as a member of its military wing, blamed the Mossad spy agency for his killing and threatened revenge.
Liberman’s statement came after Education Minister Naftali Bennett on Saturday vowed to prevent Hamas from bringing Batsh’s body to burial in Gaza.
The bodies of the two soldiers — Goldin and Shaul — are currently being held by Hamas, along with two Israeli civilians, Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, who entered Gaza of their own volition in 2014 and 2015, respectively.
Liberman would not acknowledge any Israeli responsibility in the assassination. “Feuds between different factions of terror organizations is something we see almost daily,” he told Israel Radio. “I assume this is what happened here as well. It’s a tradition among terror groups – to blame every killing on the State of Israel.”
But, he added, “even if it wasn’t us,” Israelis “don’t need to weep” over Batsh’s death. “He wasn’t a righteous man. He didn’t work on rehabilitating the electric grid or improving the water infrastructure in Gaza. We heard the statements by Hamas’s leaders, who took responsibility and noted that he was working on improving the accuracy of [the organization’s] rockets.”
Reports in Malaysia Sunday morning said that the Palestinian and Egyptian embassies were working to coordinate the transfer of the body to Gaza for burial.
Liberman noted that while Israel did not allow bodies to pass through its own checkpoints, it could not prevent Egypt from allowing the body to be brought through the Egyptian-Gazan border crossing at Rafah.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh on Saturday accused Israel’s Mossad spy agency of killing Batsh in Kuala Lumpur and vowed revenge: “The Mossad is not far from this disgraceful, terrible crime. There will be an unsettled account between us and it,” Haniyeh said at a Gaza mourning tent for Batsh. “We cannot give up on the blood of our sons, youths, and scholars.”
Batsh’s family in Gaza echoed the charges: “We accuse the Mossad of being behind the assassination.”
The Israeli government, in keeping with longstanding policy related to alleged activities by the Mossad, had no official comment.
Hebrew media reports said Gaza-born scientist Batsh had published material recently on drone development and on transmitters for controlling drones.
Malaysian police said Batsh was killed in a drive-by motorcycle shooting as he headed on foot to take part in dawn Muslim prayers.
After the killing, Hamas issued a statement saying Batsh was a “loyal” member and a “scientist among Palestine’s youth scholars.” It said he had made “important contributions” and participated in international forums in the field of energy.
Later Saturday, the armed wing of Hamas opened a mourning house in Gaza for Batsh. A banner at the entrance of the tent described him as a member of the terror group’s military wing and “a commander.”
Ten masked fighters in camouflage uniforms stood in a line outside the tent in Jabaliya, the slain man’s hometown, to greet mourners. The ceremony is typical for senior Hamas commanders.
Kuala Lumpur police chief Datuk Seri Mazlan Lazim said one of two suspects on a high-powered motorcycle “fired 10 shots, four of which hit the lecturer in the head and body. He died on the spot.”
The police chief said footage from closed-circuit television cameras near the scene of the shooting showed two assailants waited for around 20 minutes in the area before attacking, according to Malaysia’s state-run Bernama news agency.
“We believe the lecturer was their target because two other individuals walked by the place earlier unharmed. We will view the recordings of all the CCTV in the area to identify the suspects and get the registration number of the motorcycle,” he said.
Malaysia’s Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said the government was looking into the possibility of the involvement of “foreign agents” in the killing. He told local media that initial investigations showed the assailants were “white men” driving a powerful BMW 1100cc motorbike.
He said the suspects were believed to be Europeans with links to a foreign intelligence agency, Reuters reported, and that Batsh had “links with foreign intelligence and was active in pro-Palestinian non-governmental organizations, describing him as an expert in electrical engineering and rocket-building.”
Batsh may have been regarded as “a liability for a country that is an enemy of Palestine,” Zahid was quoted as saying.
Besides his Hamas affiliation, Batsh was a cousin of Khaled al-Batsh, a senior official in the Islamic Jihad terror group, who also accused the Mossad of the assassination.
Batsh specialized in electrical and electronic engineering and worked at a Malaysian university. He had lived there with his family for the past eight years and was an imam at a local mosque.
He received his PhD from Malaysia’s University of Malaya in 2015 and was a senior lecturer at the British Malaysian Institute. His official biography said his research interests included power converters, power quality, and renewable energy.
The Batsh family urged Malaysian authorities to investigate his murder and “arrest those responsible for killing him before they flee.”
The Mossad has been accused in the past of eliminating those who supply Palestinian and Lebanese terror groups with advanced technology, as well as of assassinating Iranian nuclear scientists.
The most high-profile case was the death of Hassan Lakkis, who was the head of Hezbollah’s weapons research and development. He was shot and killed south of Beirut in 2013. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah blamed Israel, but Jerusalem denied any involvement.
In Dubai, in 2010, Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a key Hamas missile purchaser and importer, was assassinated in his hotel room in a killing widely attributed to Mossad.
Hamas also accused Mossad of assassinating one of its drone experts, Mohamed Zouari, in Tunisia in 2016.